” Voices Against Recall” is the latest effort by anti-activist lawyers to disqualify California state Supreme Court Judge Christopher Freiman for disobeying state law requiring a mandatory minimum sentence for first-time, non-violent criminal offenders. The book’s author has written a series of books criticizing U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and Elliot Spitzer as well as former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He now argues that California’s new sentencing scheme for criminals is so strict it violates the guarantee of equal protection under the 14th Amendment. In addition, he contends that California’s new law requiring that all felony convictions be considered in sentencing, as well as mandatory minimum sentencing laws for juvenile offenders, are blatantly discriminatory and thus violate the rights of minorities.
Already a well-known voices against clemency campaign, this latest effort by Voices Against Recall, or AV Clubs, comes at a time when the Obama administration and the California State Bar Association are publicly criticizing prosecutors and judges for their tough sentencing policies. California is one of only three states that currently require a person serving a sentence to have served part of the minimum sentence requirement. The other states’ laws are stricter. “voices against recall” organizers say they will bring signatures to the polls asking voters to force the state Supreme Court judge out of his retirement. They also announced plans to launch a major television advertising campaign to pressure members of the legislature into voting to recall the judge.
There is no doubt that California’s two-track system of sentencing makes it difficult for judges to impose a just and proportionate sentence on criminals. For example, if an individual who has previously violated a federal law commits two more violations within a five-year period, he or she will receive a mandatory 15-year sentence for each offense. The idea, critics say, is that if an individual has been twice-freed or is subject to the death penalty for a crime, he or she should not be able to later be put back in jail for breaking the same law twice. A single instance of double jeopardy, they argue, justifies the legislature’s ability to increase the sentencing guidelines. Some legal experts agree with their position, but others strongly disagree.
The Campaign for Fair Sentencing, which was formed by the California State Bar Association and funded by various law firm and business groups, is one of the voices against recall efforts. According to its website, the group believes that mandatory sentencing does not work and that its purpose is to tie judges inextricated and financially tied to a predetermined number of years of imprisonment. “A life sentence for a drug kingpin is absurd,” said David Gamache, senior counsel for the bar association. He added that mandatory sentencing “does not solve the problem of low-level criminal conduct.”
Meanwhile, according to a letter from a group of California state attorneys, the recall campaign is being conducted “to chill the exercise of due process rights.” These lawyers argue that there is no problem in requiring people to pay for the prospect of receiving a fair trial, but that the recall initiative goes beyond this. “The initiative seeks to impose an unprecedented restriction on the right of a defendant to effective counsel,” they added. The Campaign for Fair Sentencing and other groups such as the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers are currently raising funds and preparing various lawsuits to stop the recall campaign.
Retired California Judge Michael Ladoris Cordell was among the first of many judges to sign on to the petition. According to the Associated Press, he said that he could not sign on to the initiative because he feels it is “voter driven.” According to the AP, Ladoris Cordell “also criticized the state’s District Attorneys Association for not focusing more on the problems of the criminal justice system.” These sentiments appear to be shared by many voters. The recall effort has become one of the biggest barriers to a fair trial for many candidates and will probably remain a hot topic well into next year.